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In about turns,changed lives,Resurrection,Ron Galloway

Incredible “About Turns” Part 3

by Dr. Ron Galloway

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I stated and elaborated on the central problem facing the fringe scholar or radical critic with respect to the resurrection, and elaborated upon a couple of “about turns” that point to its reality, the second of which is the Jewish religious leaders’ moving from having the tomb of the crucified Jesus guarded, to bribing the Roman guards to say that the disciples stole the body. I promised to look at a further implication of this second “about turn,” to which we now turn.

On the first  Day of Pentecost after the resurrection, Peter speaks of the risen Christ, and holds accountable a nationwide gathering of Jews. At the end of that speech, Peter holds the entire Jewish nation accountable for crucifying their own Messiah. The book of Acts records that about three thousand Jews from all over the world were deeply repentant and gave their lives to Jesus Christ.[i]Now, it seems a complete impossibility that Peter would make such a speech if in fact Jesus was actually still in the tomb. If so, Peter would have been swiftly arrested by the Jewish military and thrown into prison. How are we to explain how Peter was foolish enough to speak of a risen Christ or believe such a thing if this forty-day-old tomb still contained the body of Jesus? How do we explain the evident passion of Peter and willingness to face religious leaders from every Jewish nation, when before the resurrection of Jesus Peter had denied Him three times and fled for his life?[ii]  Until he had seen that Jesus was gone and had found himself face to face with the angels, Peter did not believe the women whom the angels had instructed to tell him and the other disciples that Christ had risen.[iii]Why would Peter express such zeal for a risen Jesus amidst this immense Jewish gathering if he knew that Jesus was dead? And why would thousands of these Jews surrender their life to a risen Christ whose death could be so easily confirmed if he was still in a nearby tomb?

Another little noted behaviour that makes clear that the resurrection was the last thing that Peter was expecting is that when Peter and the other men heard the report from the woman, despite their doubts, they all went to see, but John and Peter ran full tilt till they reached the tomb. The Gospel of John records that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (most probably John, the author of the Gospel of John) reached the tomb even before the other disciples that were running. The book of Luke makes no mention of the other disciples running to the tomb, likely because, at this point in the account, the book of Luke is focused on Peter. This is indicated by the fact that Luke not only records Peter’s denial in some detail, but also the fact that he records that Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows. This could explain why Luke simply speaks of Peter as running to the tomb, being amazed, and returning home, yet makes no mention of John getting there even before Peter. Luke makes no mention of the other disciples returning home either; he mentions only Peter.[iv]  What is clear in all four of these early biographies of Jesus is that Peter, John, and the other men were all shocked and amazed when they saw the empty tomb and the folded garments. [v]This is hardly the behaviour of men who were plotting to steal the body of Jesus. 

If the disciples had taken the body, for reasons given earlier, they would have had to face the Roman military which was closely guarding the tomb, which was sealed with a stone. None of these early biographies even remotely hint at the idea that the disciples of Jesus were plotting to free Him through military force. Indeed, shortly before his trial, Jesus had rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers that came to arrest him.  He told Peter to put up his sword telling him that “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”[vi]  What we do witness in all these early biographies is the followers of Jesus who were both scared and bewildered, even when they saw the empty tomb. It was only after they met with Jesus himself that the “about turn” began. 

The lie of the Jewish leaders and military had been sent out aboutforty or thirty nine days earlier. Very likely that lie would by this time have been heard by Jewish leaders from all nations. If they did not hear about it in their homelands, they would soon hear it from the local Jews at the Feast of Pentecost. As the Apostle Paul tells us in his defence before King Agrippa the Jewish leader, “this was not done in a corner.”[vii]This explains, at least in part if not in full, why Peter encountered no opposition when he told the huge gathering that they were accountable for crucifying their own Messiah.[viii]  We see then that the “about turn” of the military guard and the religious leaders involved a lie that in the end served as an aid to Peter on that day, and the early Christians in general as they spread the message of the resurrection abroad.

Amidst our discussion of the second “about turn” I actually smuggled in the third. We see in all that happens to Peter another incredible change of heart. Here is a man who in abject cowardice denied his Lord and Saviour three times on the night before the crucifixion. But after the resurrection we encounter a man filled with courage while facing a massive gathering of Jews. Who could even begin to explain such an “about turn” apart from Christ’s resurrection, apart from forty days of Jesus’ visiting Peter and his other followers, apart from the visible ascension of Jesus, and apart from the coming of the Holy Spirit like a “rushing wind”?[ix]The fact that the forty-day appearances and ascension of Jesus are hardly ever mentioned by the media, or by contemporary scholarship, is itself astonishing. To hear most critiques of the Bible today by the popular media, you would think the whole thing revolves around whether or not the tomb was empty. While this is certainly part of it, it is only the beginning. Indeed, the empty tomb only takes on significance when seen in sequence with the resurrection, the forty day appearances of Jesus, the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the hearts and minds of both the speakers and the listeners on that incredible day of miracles and power.  All five of these events were pivotal to the radical change in Peter, and those early followers who knew Jesus before his death and resurrection. This will become even clearer later in this series.

The entire content of Peter’s intensely moving speech was all about the resurrected Christ, who over the forty days before his ascension had taught Peter the truths he shared with the four thousand converts on the day of Pentecost. The book of Acts explains that it was only because of the ascension of Jesus into the clouds that the Holy Spirit came to them on the day of Pentecost. Even before His death, Jesus had told Peter and the rest of the disciples that it was better that He return to the Father, so that the Holy Spirit, the “Comforter” or “Helper” would come and indwell all who repent and surrender their lives to Him.[x]This is why, just before He ascended, Jesus instructed Peter and the rest of the followers who were with Him, to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them.[xi]When the Holy Spirit comes to them, it is described as a rushing wind and tongues of fire form over the head of the followers of Jesus. Then it is recorded that on the day of Pentecost, the same day that the Holy Spirit came, Jews from every nation heard Peter and the disciples speaking in their own individual languages. Acts describes the amazement of the listeners: Utterly floored, they marvelled amongst themselves, for  they knew that a great many languages were being spoken simultaneously by Peter and the rest: the language of Jewish listeners from Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene, and even Rome. [xii]

The critic who wants to discount this miracle needs to understand that the author of Acts would have to be suicidal to say these things if they were not true.  Even if Acts was written thirty or even forty years after the crucifixion, later circulation of a miracle of this magnitude, if it had not taken place, would be obvious to the Jews, the Romans, and the Christians themselves. Besides this, many of the Christians who would still be alive, and were there from the first, would know the writer of Acts was lying. Indeed, what would be the point of writing an account of the growth of the early church, if the author knew those early Christians would easily find him out? After all, the Book of Acts circulated through the early Christian communities near to Jerusalem and far away. There is no way that such a well-known book would have been so highly revered by the early Christians if it contained a pack of lies.

If Peter’s speech to Jews from every nation under Heaven was a fabrication, there is no mention of this fabrication in any of the New Testament writings. On the contrary, all twenty six writings of the New Testament speak of this same resurrected and living God-Man, Jesus Christ. As we shall see, one of the earliest letters in the New Testament confirms the reality of the resurrection, the appearances, and the ascension along with the special appearance of Jesus to Peter.  But that is part of another about turn that we will encounter in later in the series.

Can we even imagine the fury of Jewish people once they got wind of a widely circulated lie that Jews from every nation under heaven came together at the feast of Pentecost, and not only heard Peter and the others speak in their own language, but thousands of them gave their lives to Jesus on that very day, at that very time? The writer of such fabrications would be killed or imprisoned by the Jewish authorities as soon as they got wind of this new writing, that is, if the author was not murdered by angry Jews before the arrest could be implemented. The earlier quote from Paul recorded in acts comes to mind again.  This matter of the death, resurrection, appearances, ascension, coming of the Holy Spirit, and the consequent incredible “about turns” of both the speakers and the listeners were not done in a corner, and certainly not on a day when Peter spoke to Jews from every nation under Heaven. When seriously pondered, the “about turn” of Peter and the response of around three thousand repentant Jews leaves the fringe critic who wants to dismiss the resurrection, the appearances, the ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit with a truly unenviable problem.  

The problem for the critic becomes is even worse because the coming of the Holy Spirit was predicted by the prophet Joel, approximately five hundred years earlier.  Indeed, what happened to the four thousand Jews on that day was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. Peter actually quotes Joel at the beginning of his speech: “In the last days, I [Yahweh] will pour forth my spirit on all people”. The book of Acts records the Holy Spirit’s coming first to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, then to the Samaritans in chapter 8 and, in chapters 10 and 11, to the gentiles who are neither Jewish nor Samaritan.[xiii]It was all about what Jesus said when he declared that unless you are born of the Spirit you cannot be His disciple.[xiv]

This far we have examined three interesting “about turns” which seem to indicate the reality of the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, as promised by Christ Himself. But we have only scratched the surface. We will continue our investigation throughout the next posts.

[i]Acts 2.
[ii]John 18:15-27; Luke 22:31-34; Luke 22:54-62; Mark 14:66-72; Mathew 26:31-35, 69-75.
[iii]Luke 24:8-12.                                                                                                                                                                  
[iv] There is good reason to believe that John the disciple “whom Jesus loved” was the author of John. This explains why John mentions that a disciple whom Jesus loves reaches the tomb first. It is a very strange expression in John, and seems to have no other feasible explanation than that for a moment John takes off the hat of objective recorder of the facts and lets us know that he was a part of this wondrous experience of resurrection.
[v]Luke 24:12; John 20:1-10.
[vi]John 18:10-11; Mathew 26:47-55.
[vii]Acts 26:26.
[viii]Acts 2:36-37.
[ix]Acts 1:6-11, 2:2-13.
[x]John 15:26 -2:1-16. The Greek word paracleteis sometimes translated “comforter”, others prefer “helper”.
[xi]Acts 1:6-10.
[xii]Acts 2:1-13. It is not outside the realm of possibility that those Jews who could understand the disciples in their own language were those whose hearts were open to God. Those who called Peter a drunk might well have been those Jews whose hearts were out of sync with God, such as the ones Steven addresses in Acts 7, those who continually resist the Holy Spirit.
[xiii]Peter quotes Joel at the beginning of his speech in Acts. He says this is what the prophet Joel predicted: “In the last days, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. Acts records the Holy Spirit’s being poured out on the Samaritans. in Chapter 8 and the Gentiles in Chapters 10 and 11., Joel, Acts 2”14-17.
[xiv]Act 1:1-6, 2:36-39, 10-11; 1 Peter 3:20-22; John 3:1-17.